• Sherry

April 2014 S. Benjamins & Co Newsletter: Reframing the Future of Innovation


Patricia has an extensive background in new product commercialization involving technology, healthcare, and start-ups. Her passion to “enhance the value and accessibility of innovations in the field of life sciences for our communities” is evident when you speak with her.  Shortly after our introduction to Patricia, she became the Executive Director of the Innovation Lab at The Innovation Institute. We were lucky enough to sit down with her and discuss what the first five months at The Institute has taught her as well as her thoughts on innovation in organizations.

Sherry Benjamins (SB) :  What motivated you to take on this role at Innovation Institute?

Patricia: I am a native New Yorker who never had any intention of making my way to Southern California, but the work of The Innovation Institute is really what drove me to pursue this opportunity. I was previously leading commercialization in the private, non-profit healthcare sector, but was constantly struggling for resources. Given the current economic conditions and the way healthcare is structured, it is hard to advance an innovation program in one health system.  Here, we have the chance to expand across seven healthcare systems and while they own (and motivate) us, we are not on their balance sheet.  At The Innovation Institute, our team never has to compete with funding for an MRI machine to get resources for innovation projects.

SB: You have been at The Innovation Institute for about five months. What are your enjoying most?

Patricia: I love the attitude of investment in what we are doing. We have resources to take opportunities further and we’re setting ourselves up to have those resources in the future. There is true innovation strategy here. Most people think of innovation as an idea that gets some investment. We believe that the idea is just a small component of innovation; we focus on generating clinical and financial value. We are also planning to fuel innovation through nontraditional means like crowd sourcing within our seven systems to address issues that main line physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are facing.

SB: How do you and The Innovation Institute inspire Innovation and risk taking?

Patricia: There is an art to the way we bring it forward. We like to engage in a conversation about clinical reality through a truly collaborative process. We guide healthcare professionals to focus on clearly defining the problems they face and looking at the business as well as clinical cases for solving them. Then we take a creative approach to solving the most compelling needs with great new products and services.

SB: In the CEO Message on your website, Joe Randolph states that organizations must “be willing to take risk – and fail – in order to succeed in the long run, a practice called 'failing forward'”. Does this idea coincide with how you choose to inspire innovation?

Patricia: I think my statement above is a component of the “fail forward” concept. Medicine is traditionally about achieving excellence within proven guidelines, which makes sense when lives are at risk. The Innovation Institute is that safe place to fail outside of clinical practice.

SB: Would you classify the Innovation Institute as “pioneers”?

Patricia: I would say we are, particularly in the way we have set up our revenue model. We have a model that provides us with multiple revenue streams now and in the future. We are also on the cutting edge of authentic engagement with main-line healthcare employees. We hire team members that have the skills and expertise to really analyze market value and interpret what main-line healthcare is telling us.

SB: The Innovation Institute works closely with the Cleveland Clinic. Tell us a little bit about that partnership?

Patricia: Our partnership is focused on commercialization of specific inventions from the physicians and other healthcare professionals in our Member systems. Innovation Institute begins to evaluate an idea and, send the more promising ones to the Cleveland Clinic Innovations for additional evaluation. If we all agree that the idea should move forward will do some basic design and prototype work and hand it off to Cleveland Clinic Innovations for patenting and conduct of business transactions.

SB: You are in the process of putting together a new team. What attributes will they need to embody?

Patricia: First and foremost, they need to learn to listen with an open mind. We want to come in with knowledge on the topic being discussed, but without assumptions. I have worked with biomedical engineers and designers that seem to be able to do this well. Also, people on our team need to be able to see the commercial side of an opportunity. They can’t fall so in love with a technology that they forget to consider the business component.

SB: What is the talent pool for this talent?

Patricia: I speak to a significant number of innovation professionals who are straining to find where they belong. They struggle to find job opportunities that involve true innovation work. They often land in marketing or product manager roles, but feel unfulfilled. We all need to consider what kind of opportunities we can create for innovation specialists within our organizations. Maybe we start by asking, “Is there home for innovation within your organization?”

In Closing - SB: CEO’s across the globe are focused on not only what is getting done but also on how things get done.  We have leaders creating business models that now ensure doing good and doing well. There is a refreshing focus on people and reshaping the culture of work so that means we are more likely to see real examples of innovation at work. The real question is: will leaders drive towards more open strategic partnerships and creative collaborations across discipline or stay the safer route?  The Innovation Institute is modelling the “next” in creating opportunities for talent that thrives in the unknown. If you have a story you want to share about this, we would love to hear about it in our comments section below!

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